I’ve been in the sport of BMX racing for over three decades now. I’ve seen it go from an overnight phenom in the early 80’s where there were half a dozen BMX magazines at even remote news stands and every second person wanted to race a BMX bike, to an almost underground sport that was struggling for numbers, to the sport it has become today. Today, from an insider point of view it appears torn, fractured with a serious dose of split personality disorder.
In the early days I saw athletes cut their teeth in BMX racing and move on to professional careers in other sports because BMX had “no future” when you had Olympic aspirations. Despite the fact there were a lot of racers making good money riding around on BMX bikes, travelling the world and building a fan base and legend that would continue on for decades.
That was until the bubble burst. The world had moved on to the next fad. BMX didn’t die off altogether, it did struggle though, and you would expect it to since it was never considered a mainstream sport. Although it’s now been in the Olympics since 2008, it’s still not considered a mainstream sport, and may never be. Let’s face it there are a truck load of sports in the Olympics that are in the same boat, synchronised swimming comes to mind, and the new addition ultimate frisbee.
Being an Olympic sport isn’t going to make things grow for the sport. With three appearances Olympics now in the history books our elite athletes struggle more than ever to be able to compete on the world stage. Very few BMXers can make a living from their sponsorship and winnings alone, especially when prize pools just seem to keep getting smaller, and you have to wonder if the risk versus reward factor is worth it for them.
Now getting back to my earlier comment about how the sport appears split. Everyone has an idea of what BMX is, what it means to be a BMXer and what it would take to make BMX better. I love the passion of, well most, BMXers. It’s like nothing else. What I don’t understand though is why we let UCI control the image of the sport. There are two main schools of thought about what BMX should be today. The 8 meter tall starting hills with massive jumps that we see at Supercross World Cup events – This is the UCI style of BMX that forces riders to push their limits physically and mentally and forces “progression of BMX racing”. Then there’s the traditional form of BMX with smaller start hills and jumps, that’s more family friendly, but swept under the carpet when it comes to the mainstream media. Apparently it’s just not as exciting as Supercross style racing. To fix this is just a simple matter of educating the media, even if it’s just a local newspaper.
I personally enjoy both styles. I love to watch Supercross and compete at traditional events. What I fear is that someone sees BMX racing on the TV and thinks “that’s awesome, but I’d never do it” or “I loved watching it, but I wouldn’t let my kids do it”. I was listening to a Dale Holmes Podcast over at BMXWEEKLY.COM with Clayton John and when Clayton said the 8 Meter hill has “killed the desire for every kid to want to do that” I’d thought that’s exactly what I’ve been thinking. Now there will be some people out there who don’t care about people who won’t compete on these 8 meter hills, but the truth is if we can get more people to traditional BMX tracks the sport will grow again with more people spending money in the industry and there will be more prize money and more sponsorship money for the elite of the sport. The only way to do this though is through a united approach, selling BMX racing as a complete package. Everyone needs to put their differences aside and ensure that BMX is portrayed as a sport for everyone. Heck it’s not like athletics put a shark pit at the end of the 100 meter sprint and the 100 meter is considered the main event at the Olympics.
What is best for our sport? Growth. The way I see it, it’s simple, a bigger grass roots to the sport means a bigger audience and a bigger pool of riders to rise to the top. It also means a bigger industry and more people spending money within it. Let’s create an image for BMX that has a welcoming and anyone can do it appeal and then let them know you can progress all the way to the Olympics rather than put all our eggs in the Olympic image because if we keep going the way we are BMX will just be driven underground again, but let’s do it now while the sport it still getting love from mainstream media.
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